Sunday, May 10, 2015

ISI 11: Be Still

[This Bible Study starts here.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question:
When you were young, what were some things that you wanted to be when you grew up?

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson and Bible Verses:
            Psalm 46: 10:  “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

            That is one of my favorite verses.  And it’s funny because when I was in high school, I went to a Christian retreat where that was the key verse for the week . . . and all I could think was, How boring!  What a boring verse to pick to inspire, challenge, and “activate” the teens for Christ.  Be still?  Blah!

            But now, this verse has become so dear to me.  It is one of my top five.  So I guess I’ve come full circle.  To me, this verse is all about humility.  A humble person is one who has learned to trust in God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness so much that - despite the storms that rage around - they can “be still” because God is God!  A humble person desperately desires to be near the Lord and to bask in His presence, and so they have learned the importance of being physically and mentally still with the Lord at regular times.  And a humble person also knows that everything is about God’s glory!  He will be exalted!!!

            Oh, I love this verse!!!

            I think one of the most important (and least developed) characteristics of a deep relationship with God is learning to be still before Him. 

            Now, “be still” is a very short sentence, but it has very big meanings.  And I think that there are at least four different ways to “be still,” and all are equally important.  (And they overlap in ways.)

1.  Be physically still and spend time with God. 

            The problem here is simply that we won’t slow down enough to be still enough to do anything.  We are an over-achieving, constantly-moving group of people.  And even when we are not moving, we are busy filling our time and minds with anything else but God.  TV, gossip, friends, work, hobbies, social networking, etc. 

            But God shows us in His Word the importance of getting away from distractions to spend time with Him. 

            Matthew 14:23:  “After [Jesus] had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”                

            Spending time with God can happen in prayer, Bible reading, taking walks and dwelling on His creation, reading godly books, spending time talking about deeply spiritual things with others (where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst.), having coffee with God in the morning while you spend time thinking about Him and talking to Him, keeping a “gratitude journal” where you regularly write down things you are thankful for, etc. - whatever puts a pause on the daily, rat-race events of life and centers your attention on God and growing closer to Him and deeper in your faith.   But it means making a deliberate effort to get away from those daily tasks that keep us busy and focused on life.

            It’s amazing how many times I hear people (myself included at times) say, “I would love to read the Bible every day but I am just so busy.  And I’m sure God understands.  I’m sure that He knows I don’t want to fall asleep during prayer, but I am just so tired at the end of the night.” 

            The main “job” of a Christian is to abide with God, to love Him more than anything else, to glorify Him . . . and yet meeting with Him is the last thing on our To Do list because “I’m sure He understands.  He knows my intentions.” 

            But if we want to see real growth in our spiritual lives and real peace, contentment, and joy in our daily lives, we need to make daily meetings with God a real priority. 

            We need to set aside a certain amount of time daily to meet with God in prayer and the Word.  And we need to especially do this the busier and more stressed we are. 

            Read the Word to meet God in it, not just to check it off your To Do list. 

            Read it with these questions as filters:  What does it teach me about God?  What does it teach me about myself?  And how can I apply it to my life today? 

            I, for one, think it is best to read it in the morning, before your day begins.  It’s kinda like tithing.  God asks for the first-fruits, the best of what you have.  And so it makes sense to give Him the first-fruits of our day, too.  Give Him the best time, when you are fresh and receptive and not busy with the next task at hand, instead of the snatches that are left over. 

            I think this is a general teaching in the Bible, too. 

            Psalm 5:3:  “In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.” 

            Mark 1:35:  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

            This is not a hard and fast rule, because there is not one right way to meet with God.  We should be connecting with Him all day, actually.  But when it comes to a set-aside Bible and prayer time, I think it’s best to give Him the best part of our day.  Not when we are exhausted or distracted, but when we can really dig in deep to His Word and spend quality time in prayer. 

            And there are those whose best time may be in the evening or over lunch break.  The point is, meet God in the Word and in prayer daily.  Make it a priority.  The Bible is God’s absolute Truth, the revealed wisdom and Will and guidebook of God.   

            Here is a challenge, if you really think that you are too busy to read the Bible:  Take stock of your day and see how many wasted moments there are.  Moments that you are waiting in line or on the train or in the car (as a passenger, of course.)  Could you bring a pocket Bible with you to read during these times? 

            Or think about all the time you spend doing worthless, unproductive, and possibly unglorifying things.  Give serious thought to how you spend your time.  What TV shows do you watch?  What books or magazines do you read?  What kind of web-surfing or texting do you do?  How about hobbies?  Would your time be better spent in the Word?

            Do you know that if we watch a one-hour television show every day for a year, we’ve just spent 21,900 minutes filling our heads with unnecessary, temporary (most likely unglorifying) stuff? 

            But setting aside fifteen minutes every day to read the Bible is too much for our schedules!?! 

            In one year, that would be just 5,475 minutes.  5,475 minutes out of 525,600 minutes for an entire year.  Replace one half-hour show (or a half-hour on the phone or internet) with the Bible and you would be spending 10,950 minutes a year getting to know God.  I can’t think of a better use of nearly 11,000 minutes!  11,000 minutes investing in your relationship with God!      

2.  Be mentally still so that you can set your mind on God and be receptive to Him. 

            This can happen even while you are busy doing others things.  I have found that some of my most productive, reflective times are when I am busy doing the dishes.  Most of the time, I will be playing out some stupid daydream in my head or mulling over some concern when it dawns on me to spend this time praying or focused on God.  And as soon as I switch my thoughts to God and begin listening to the Spirit, I find that all sorts of godly “lessons” come to mind.  But I would not have heard them if I didn’t quiet my mind and listen. 

            Psalm 4:4:  “. . . search your hearts and be silent.”

Be warned, however, that trying too hard to listen for God can be a pitfall sometimes, a way of failing to “be still.” 

            As a first-born, over-achieving perfectionist, I never really rest emotionally.  I always feel like I can’t do enough or like I have to do better.  I am never satisfied with myself or my efforts.  (I didn’t always used to be this way.  Maybe I did . . . I don’t know.  I used to rewrite full pages of notes if one word looked a little sloppy.) 

            I’m not good at being still.  I am too busy trying to keep all balls up in the air so that nothing falls apart on my watch.   And I can never simply relax.  Because when I do, I feel like I am wasting time or failing at something or like everything is going to crash down around me.  Like I don’t deserve to rest because things are still crooked in my life.  And I can’t rest until they are straight.  In many ways, I expect too much out of myself.   

            And in some ways, I think I expect too much out of God, too.  I expect Him to show Himself in great ways, instead of in the many little ways that He so often does.  I expect Him to speak to me regularly, instead of through the silence that so often comes.  I expect Him to answer prayers the way I think He should, especially when I am trying so hard to follow biblical principles on prayer and righteous living.  And I expect Him to fix so many of the problems that I have and to spare me certain pain, instead of accepting that it’s more likely that He will walk with me through the pain and teach me through it. 

            And I expect Him to always be just beyond my grasp and to be just unpleased with me enough that I have to keep working to make myself better before He will really accept me and meet with me.  In my relationship with Him, I am always pursuing.  Always seeking biblical truths and trying to apply them.  Desperately trying to pray as effectively as I can.  Always trying to listen.  Always waiting for Him to talk.  Always hanging in there, hoping for answers to prayers that don’t seem to be coming.  Always polishing myself up, developing my trust in Him, and examining my heart and mind, looking for obstacles between us.  Always striving.  Always trying.  Always working so dang hard. 

            And, yes, this can be good in some ways.  But it becomes unhealthy when all I do is strive and pursue, without being able to “be still and know that He is God.”  I miss the forest when I am too busy analyzing the trees all day.  I miss out on enjoying God now when I think that I have to always make my life and my faith better before I can really have a good relationship with Him.  Does this make any sense?

            I think it is possible to put so much pressure on ourselves to “run harder after God” that we fail to find God in the here-and-now.  We fail to find Him in the life we have now because we are too busy trying to make our lives – our faith - something different.  Too busy trying to polish ourselves up and make ourselves more presentable and pleasing.  Too busy trying to find Him – when He has been right here all along. 

            We can’t enjoy a rose or a rainbow when we are so busy trying to analyze it and find ways to make it better.  And this is what I do with God sometimes.  I analyze and evaluate everything in my relationship with Him, trying so hard to do “better” in my faith, that I fail to simply enjoy Him now.  To rest in His arms.  

            Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s great and essential to mature in our faith, to improve our relationship with God.  And most of us need to spend more time doing this.  And all of us need to do it regularly throughout our lives.  But sometimes, when we work so hard yet still find ourselves getting really discouraged with life and faith and our pathetic selves, we may just need to stop trying so hard and simply “be still,” let our minds rest, and enjoy God in the here-and-now. 

            Another part of being mentally still for me is that sometimes I need to stop talking, stop praying even, and just “be” in His presence.  When I notice that prayer is just working me up more or making me think about all that’s wrong in life or I feel like God is so far away that He isn’t even listening, sometimes I just need to stop and shut my mouth and dwell.  I need to stop “doing” and to start “being.”   

            You know, I was listening to a story about someone who set aside a whole weekend for prayer.  And he said that he was able to pray for a couple hours before he had nothing else to say.  And he was discouraged and felt like a failure because he couldn’t pray for two days.  The advice he was given was to bring some friends with him so he could pray with others, because they could help inspire each other to keep talking to God.

            And that’s a good idea.  But I had a different answer in mind.  If I had the chance, I would have told him that prayer is about talking, of course, but it’s not all about the talking.  It’s also about listening and meditating on God.  It’s about enjoying and resting in His presence.  It’s about tuning into the quiet instead of fighting it, and about letting God speak through it.  It’s about being open to whatever He may want to tell you. 

            Sometimes, it’s about not talking and not trying, and instead it’s about simply being quiet before the Lord, about waiting for Him to move in His time instead of feeling like it’s our responsibility to force something.  Sometimes there are things we can only learn in the silence.  And it might be time to stop trying and stop talking, to simply kneel before Him in reverence and humility and sweet admiration and say nothing.

            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)

            “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecc. 5:2)

            [And for the record, I am not talking about some sort of New Age meditation or about completely emptying your head.  Emptying your head is a dangerous thing, allowing room for evil to come in.  I am talking about turning your thoughts to God, about spending time with Him, talking to Him, abiding in Him, letting His Word and truths work in your heart and mind, and about listening for the things the Holy Spirit wants to say to you.
            If we are not careful and discerning, if we completely empty our heads and let any old thing in, it can lead to "hearing" messages that are not from Him!  Because we want so badly to hear something, anything, or we just want to hear what we want to hear.  That's why it's so important to know God's Word.  God's Word is the measuring stick that we judge all other messages by.  God won't tell us to do anything that contradicts His Word.  
            Now .. I know that some Christians get freaked out when people say that we can "hear" from God today.  They think we are trying to add to the Bible.  But when I say that we can still listen for God to speak to us today, I am not saying He will give us new doctrinal truths.  I am saying that He can help guide us in the details of how to live out His biblical truths in our own lives, in our own particular situations.  He can lead us to figure out how to bring Him glory in our own particular circumstances.  He can lead us to know what sins we need to seek forgiveness for, which areas of weakness we need to be cautious about, how to be discerning about the things we are hearing from others, which decision we should make when we are faced with multiple options, which Bible verse speaks to our current need or dilemma, etc.  
            So, for the record, God will never give us new doctrinal truths or "truths" that replace His written Word.  But He will guide us in how to live out His written Word in our own lives, if we are willing to seek Him, to listen and obey.]

3.  Being still also means trusting God. 

            It means to have a deep sense of trust in Him so that we can rest in Him, being concerned only with our obedience and letting Him be concerned with the obstacles, problems, timing, and results.    

            But we can’t really be still before someone if we don’t trust them or trust their love for us.  And we can’t really trust them if we don’t really know them.  This is why I believe that it is so critical for us to sort out our misconceptions about God and our self-protective walls and fears.  (Which we talked about earlier.) 

            And trust is also a part of knowing that God helps us in life, that we are not alone and that everything doesn’t rest on our shoulders.  We don’t have to carry the weight of the world because God does.  And God carries us as we carry our burdens. 

            I give in too easily to the feeling that I have to “do it all,” and that I will always fail at doing it all.  And it regularly leads to a kind of depression.  Satan seems to get to me best not with a bold, frontal assault, but by quietly standing beside me and simply whispering in my ear, “Oops, you see that burden there.  You dropped it.  Better pick it up again. . . . What about this new concern or problem?  You better hold tightly onto that.  After all, if you don’t worry about it and try to fix it, who will? . . . Better not relax yet.  Things go wrong when you relax . . . You really messed up again, didn’t you?  That’s typical! . . . You’re on your own.  There’s no one that really cares. . . . Maybe if you just try a little bit harder . . .”

            But God says, “Be still.” 

            So many times I just need to be still. 

            When my spirit hasn’t been still for a long time, I start to exhaust myself, to run on empty.  Of course, I need to keep praying and reading my Bible daily.  I desperately need those things because life is too hard for me to bear alone.  But I am learning that, many times, I need to stop frantically trying to make everything “better,” to do “more,” or to accomplish it all, and I need to just be still and trust that God will handle what I can’t.  He is big enough! 

            But do I live like He is?     

            Lately, life feels like I’m falling down a deep hole, struggling to grab onto something on the sides for support.  To catch myself from hitting bottom.  To find something that I can use to pull myself back up to the top where the fresh air is.  Where life is. 

            But I’m tired of frantically struggling and grabbing.  And if falling is what I am supposed to be doing, then I am just going to keep falling until He catches me.  I’m just going to stop struggling and I am just going to relax into the fall.  And I’m going to trust that when I hit bottom, His hands will be there, waiting to catch me. 

            I have tried and tried to make my hope and faith strong enough to hold me up, but now I really just need God to hold me.  And so I’m going to keep falling until He catches me.  And my simple prayer is going to be, “Lord, I don’t know what else I need.  I just know that I need You.  Catch me, hold me, and help me come alive again.  Just help me!” 

            And so I’m just going to hunker down in life as it is, nestled up in the Lord’s hands, and let Him carry me through it.  In His time and in His way.  I’m going to grab on like Jacob and cling to Him until He blesses me.  I am going to set my mind on Him, not asking for things I want as much as just resting from the uphill climb of life, resting in His presence. 

            My problems will still be there later and I can go back to dwelling on them then, if I want to.  But for now, I just need a break.  I just need to fall.  I just need to be still and find out that He is God!

            Have you ever thought about how worry is really just shrinking God?  It's reducing Him to a weakling who can't handle our concerns, to an uninvolved and apathetic God who doesn't care about what we're going through.  It's stealing God's glory, acting like we can do better, like we care more about things than He does, like we are wiser or more capable than He is, like we have to handle it ourselves because God can't be trusted to handle it.     

            But what was it that Moses told the Israelites when they were freaking out as Pharaoh’s army cornered them against the Red Sea?

             “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  (Exodus 14:13-14)   

            Be still!  They only had to be still.  Stand firm - firm in their faith that God would handle it.  And the Lord would do the fighting. 

            As long as the Israelites trusted and simply stood still and firm in the Lord, they were safe.  And God would be glorified!  It was in His hands all along, even if they couldn’t see it.       

            This encourages my soul.  I don’t see the big picture, but I don’t have to see the big picture.  Because I can trust that God does.  I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders because that’s God’s job.  I don’t always know how to handle things, but God does and He will straighten out my path as I abide in Him.  And when I run out of strength and need to just rest for awhile, that’s okay because God is strong enough for both of us. 

            My job is just to fall on Him in trust and humility, to admit that I can’t do it on my own and that I need Him, and to remain still in Him, firm in my faith. 

            “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

            Our hope is in Him.  Not in getting our way or getting out of the trial or in being able to “do it all” or in finding what we are looking for in something else.  Our hope is in Him!  And as we hope in Him – as we wait on Him and trust Him with our situation and trust that He will make our paths straight, make all wrongs right, and eventually make something beautiful out of our messy life – we will find the strength to face each day, each trial. 

            But hoping in Him doesn’t include excessively worrying over our circumstances, groaning about the trials, trying to make things happen in our own strength, trying to force God to answer or move before it is time, focusing on the negatives and the impossibilities and all the things we want but don’t have or have but don’t want.  That only saps our strength, a little every day.  And it gives the devil more of a foothold in our lives.

            But learning to find our hope in Him (and I do mean learning because it is a process of letting go, learning to trust, and changing our thinking) will bring a certain deep assurance that He is still on the throne, even if life is still messy.  It will bring a stillness, even in the midst of storms.  It will bring contentment and peace, even when things are not the way we want them to be.  It will bring joy in Him, even if we are not necessarily “happy.”   It will help us learn to walk by faith, to live in reverent fear of the Lord, and to trust Him in genuine humility, allowing Him to be God in our lives. 

            We are right where we need to be as long as we are in His arms and walking in daily obedience under His guidance and putting our faith and hope in Him as we grow closer to Him through His Word and prayer.  He will handle each day for us.  He will carry us while we carry the burdens He gave us.

            “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)

4.  Being still also implies waiting for Him to move in His time and in His way.  

            When life is messy and we have concerns that we have prayed about and we have done all that we know He has called us to do and we are abiding in Him, then our job becomes to just “be still” and keep living the life we have and wait for God to move and to guide us in His time and way.  We cannot force His answers.  We have to wait for them in trust. 

            Psalm 37:7:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . .” 

            Let’s take a look at a passage which I love.  Genesis 12.  In the first verse, God says to Abraham, “Leave your country . . . and go to the land I will show you.”  He basically tells Abraham to step out in blind faith.  First he is to leave his home, and then eventually God will show him the land he is to go to. 

            But for me, so often in my life, I want to see the map ahead of time, before I decide if I want to go or not.  I want to know the exact route I am supposed to take, the place I’ll end up, the rewards that I’ll get for the effort, and I want the answers to my prayers when I want them.  I don’t like to wait too long for these things. 

            But that’s not how God works.

            God’s way is to call us to go before we have any idea where we are going, to show us one step at a time, to give us trials before we have any idea what He wants us to learn through them, and to answer slowly, even if we want fast, immediate results. 

            And we learn as we go, as we rely on Him and draw closer to Him during the journey.  He does not tell us His plans ahead of time.  But our faith deepens and grows as we walk the twist and turns, the hills and valleys, the dead-ends and turn-arounds with Him. 

            We may not know where He is taking us, but He does.  Our job is not to know ahead of time.  Our job is just to walk with Him.  And eventually, we’ll find ourselves in the place that He wants us to be.  If we are obedient and listen to Him and follow where He leads.

            It’s not easy - learning to walk by faith.  In fact, it’s a life-long journey and one that I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand or do perfectly.  But I keep trying, learning through each failure and trial and stumble and victory.

            One thing that we need to remember on this journey of faith is that God has His own timetable.  And things usually take a lot longer than we want them to.  Look at the blessing that God promises Abraham in verses 2-3.  Very early on (well, when Abraham was seventy-five years old) God gave him the promise of a son.  But Isaac wasn’t born for 25 years, not until Abraham was about a hundred. 

            Twenty-five years of waiting for what God said He was going to do! 

            I don’t know if I’d be able to hang in there for more than a few months.  I can begin to lose faith pretty quickly if things don’t happen as I thought they were going to.  But to wait 25 years, hearing over and over that the blessing was going to come?  I don’t know . . . I think I’d begin to wonder.  To doubt.

            But waiting, I think, is one of the greatest testers and refiners of our faith.  It’s during these times that all sorts of things come to the surface: sins, fears, doubts, walls, self-sufficient ways, less-than-godly characteristics.

            Long waits are when we exhaust our own wisdom and our own attempts to make things work.  Long waits purify our desires and priorities.  Long waits cause us to decide if we will “play God” in our lives or if we will fall down at the Lord’s feet in humility and say, “I need You, Lord.  I can’t do this on my own anymore.  No matter what happens, I just need You and I want to glorify You.  Not my will, but Yours be done.” 

            And I think this is why God lets us wait sometimes, way longer than we are comfortable with.

            When we panic during the long waits – when we fear and doubt and try to take matters into our own hands - we create consequences for ourselves and others that God never intended.  And when we are tempted to do this, we should seek comfort from godly friends, hit our knees in prayer, and open the Word, seeking the wisdom and comfort and strength that God is so willing to provide. 

            He may expect us to wait a long time for His promise to be fulfilled, but He doesn’t expect us to wait alone.  We can wait with Him in faith and learn the painful, wonderful lessons that we can only learn on the journey.  We can be still because He is God.  And once you start to really understand who He is and His love and goodness and power and majesty, that should be good enough for us 

            If there is one thing that I am learning as I get older, it’s this:  “It’s all about the journey, not about the destination.” 

            Now, of course, ultimately it really is about the destination – our eternal destination.  But the journey that we take in this life is what builds up our eternal destination, our eternal home.  God’s kingdom.  And I think God is more about maturing our faith on the journey than He is about getting us quickly to the destination. 

            As God said to Abraham, “I will show you.” 

            Not “I am showing you first so that you can decide what you want to do” or “Here’s the path, all written up so you know all the steps.” 

            It’s “I will show you, as you go forward on your journey.  But you have to step out in trust.  I will reveal the next turn when it is time.  Just keep walking with Me, one step at a time.”

            God basically asked Abraham, “Will you trust Me enough to go forward into the unknown?” 

            And this is what He asks us, too.  Regularly.  Not knowing is part of the journey.  Not knowing is what builds our godly character, humility, and faith. 

            Whether God says “Stop” or “Go,” “Yes” or “No,” we need to decide if we trust Him enough to let Him do things in His time and in His way and if we are willing to leave the unknown up to Him.  And we shouldn’t wait until our faith grows before we do this . . . because it’s by doing this that our faith grows. 

            Do only what He tells you to do through the Word and through prayer, and then wait on Him for the answer. 

            Admittedly, this is not easy to do.  Because I would venture to say that most of us have trouble with the whole “trust others” thing.  And painful trials and waits will dredge up every last bit of fear and doubt that live deep in our hearts and minds. 

            We also struggle with waiting because we are a “microwave society.”  We expect fast, quick results for everything we do.  And sometimes, God moves way too slow for us.  But if we can’t make Him go faster (which we can’t), then we need to learn to go slower, to wait for His timing. 

            Looking back on my spiritual journey so far, I know that extended periods of God’s silence always precede (and lead to) deeper spiritual growth and spiritual blessings and greater spiritual tasks and responsibilities.  And so I am not afraid of the silence anymore.  And I am learning to be okay with the waiting.  (Always learning!)  I know that these dry times and these long waits are necessary parts of spiritual growth.  And I am learning to wait not in discouragement, but in expectation that God will move again soon, that there is something important to be learned in all this.  (And I’ll be honest, sometimes I do fall into discouragement, too.  Which you’ll see later in the “Is Depression a Sin?” lesson.) 

Failing to Be Still

What are some ways that we fail to “be still”?

            - When we complain and grumble about our circumstances.

            - When we panic or worry over things we don’t know or don’t have any control over, instead of running to the Lord.

            - When we avoid quieting our minds, possibly because we are afraid of what will come up or we are afraid to let go of control over our circumstances or we are running from the Holy Spirit.

            - When we use our own strength and wisdom to force something to happen, instead of going to God about it.

            - When we are so busy doing for Him that we fail at being with Him.

            - When we use prayer as a way to manipulate God into doing what we want or as a way to dwell on our problems, getting ourselves all worked up and missing out on that “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”?   (I believe we miss out on that peace when we fail to offer our prayers with thanksgiving, as the verse says we are to do.)

            - When we let life pull us away from spending time with God.

            - When we think that He is always just outside of our grasp.  And so we keep trying to run after Him harder, pursue Him more, and try to impress Him more so that He draws near to us, and yet we fail at finding Him (letting Him meet us) in the here-and-now.

            - When we are hasty or impatient and do not wait on God to answer or move in His time and in His way.

            - When we are filled with envy and greed, always wanting more and never being content with the blessings God gave us.

            - When we try to take on too much, carry too many burdens, instead of just doing the job that God asked us to do today.

            Being still - physically, mentally, in trust, and in waiting - is important for the health of our spiritual and physical lives.  Being still is the only way we will learn to discern His whisper.  He will not shout His messages, but He whispers (as seen in 1 Kings 19:12).  And those who “have ears to hear” will hear Him. 

            If we rush our prayers, we usually end up just presenting a big list of “wants.”  But we neglect listening to Him and we don’t hear what He wants from us and for us.  (Which, sadly enough, is probably quite acceptable to some of us.)  Cultivating stillness is important in learning to hear His challenges, convictions, insights, and calls - through prayer and the Word. 

            And if we rush our Bible reading, we won’t absorb it or let it fill our hearts with what the Holy Spirit wants to tell us through it.  It will be just a chore to check off.  “Bible Reading . . . Check!”  We need to be able to be still with God’s Word, letting it transform our hearts and minds. 

            And if we rush through our days, we will miss out on so many of His simple blessings and wonders.  Those things which draw our hearts and minds back to Him and make our hearts swell with praise.  (And we can have still bodies but busy minds, failing to see the blessings of the moment.)  

            And when we can’t be still in trust and in waiting, we are tempted to panic and to take matters into our own hands.  This creates consequences that would never have happened if we had waited on God. 

            Now, of course, we can’t force ourselves to feel trusting until we get to the source of why we don’t trust.  But we can force ourselves to obey!  And if we have a hard time being obedient, we should at least talk to God about it and always stay transparent.  He will bless our honesty and our obedience, even if we don’t feel like doing it.   

            We are not a people that are used to being still, especially when “time is money.”  But I think that God highly values the ability to be still because that is when we tune into Him.  That is when we learn that He is God!

Trials and Burdens

            Here’s a question:  What is it that we always say to encourage people who are going through a hard time or struggling with too much to do, too many burdens?

            “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

            But guess what?

            It’s not true. 

            “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered . . . We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life.  Indeed, in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

            The truth is, God can and does allow us to be in situations that are far beyond our ability to handle, to endure.  Situations where you feel like you are backed into a corner with no way out, where you have no idea what to do next, where you despair of life and feel like the angel of death is breathing down your neck, literally or figuratively. 

            But what do we usually do when we face these situations?

            We tell each other, “Don’t worry.  God won’t give you more than you can bear.  You can handle this.” 

            And we try our best to fix it or make it work.  We want to show God what good, strong, capable Christians we are, as we try to bear up under the heavy load He has placed on our backs.  And we trudge along, painful step after painful step, with a grin plastered on our faces so that we don’t disappoint Him. 

            But eventually, we begin to despair, the load becomes too heavy, and we falter.  But we dig down deep and find a little more strength to carry on because “By golly, I am going to show God what a faithful Christian I am!”  And we keep going, as the grin turns to a grimace.

            But eventually, after carrying that burden far too long and using up all of our strength and wisdom and stamina, we collapse in a heap.  We drop the burden and fall down and curl up in a ball, berating ourselves for being such a failure and disappointment. 

            And we expect to hear God say, “You weakling.  I gave you a burden, and you couldn’t handle it, could you?  What kind of Christian are you?”

            But if you stop listening to those thoughts from your own head and from the Evil One, you will hear God’s voice. 

            And He says, “Finally!”

            “Finally, you are right where you should be, where you should have been from the beginning.  Because when you fell, you fell into My arms.  You were never meant to carry this burden alone.  It’s too heavy for you.  You were always meant to fall on Me and let Me carry you while you carry it.”

            So why do we put this pressure on ourselves to handle it all?  Why do we keep thinking that God will never send a burden we can’t bear, so we better be able to handle every circumstance we encounter?  Why do we keep trying to keep all the balls up in the air, not even allowing ourselves the time to do nothing more than simply stop and smell the roses and thank God for them?  Always running, always struggling, always striving?

            The thing is, I don’t see any verses like that in the Bible.  I don’t see any that say, “Thou shall always be strong enough to carry thy burdens, without any outside help.  Thou shall run and run and run all day, keeping busy accomplishing and doing and striving.  By this, you show yourself to be a faithful, capable servant of God.”

            Instead, I see this:

            “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

            “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

             “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46: 10)

            “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7)

            “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)    

            “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:17)

            “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)    

            As 2 Cor. 1:8-9 shows us, life will be too much for us to bear alone.  God gives us more than we can handle.  We will indeed face things that are beyond our ability to handle, that will make us want to roll over and give up and die.  It’s how God teaches us to run to Him, to fall on Him, to need Him, to rest in Him, to be still and know that He is God.

            When we face situations that are beyond our ability, the best thing we can do is to stop acting like we can do it all, like we have to do it all, and to admit our helplessness to the Lord.  Stop running and striving and trying.  Fall at His feet in humility and fall into His arms, trusting that He is big enough.  We were never meant to carry those burdens alone.  We were never meant to be strong enough.  We were always meant to be too weak to do it on our own.

            I think that a toddler shows they are growing up when they get to the point where they can say, “I know what I’m doing.  I do it myself.  I’m strong enough and I don’t need your help.” 

            But an adult – a Christian - shows that they are growing up when they get to the point where they can say, “I don’t know what I’m doing.  I can’t do it myself.  I’m weak and I need Your help!”

            We need God.  We need to be spending time with God regularly in order to get to know Him better, to find out how He sees us, to have our faith strengthened and to see it grow, to find contentment, peace, wisdom, and joy in Him.  And that can’t happen when we neglect meeting with God regularly.  It can’t happen when we are casual and lazy about “abiding in Him.”

            So what burdens are you bravely trying to carry when you should really be admitting your weakness and falling down on Him?  What races are you busy running all day when you should be stopping and simply enjoying the presence of our good, strong, heavenly Father?  Where are you “too busy” when you should just “be still”?

Bible Verses:

            “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

            “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”  (Exodus 14:13-14)

            “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. . .”  (Psalm 37:7)     

            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)

            “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecc. 5:2)

             “. . . search your hearts and be silent.”  (Psalm 4:4)  


1.  Did this topic trigger any thoughts you want to share?  Any Bible verses you want to bring up? 

2.  Can you think of other ways that we can “be still”?  How would you explain what “being still” means?  And why does God want us to learn to do this?

3.  What are some other ways we fail to “be still”?  What are some other consequences of failing to be still?  How does that differ from a life where we have learned to be still?  Any examples from your life? 

4.  Do you think Christians in general have learned how to be still before God?  If not, what effect is it having on us?
            [My answer:  I think most of us are just as busy as other people.  I have heard so many Christians say, “I know I should read my Bible, but I’m so busy.”  We are running at top speed, trying to accomplish so much.  And as a result, we are neglecting ourselves and our relationship with God. And the condition of our country is reflecting that.  The thing is, we take the time to do the things that really matter to us.  And this should tell us a lot about what our priorities are and how important our relationship with God is.]     

5.  Our society is built for speed, for multitasking and for jumping to the next thing before we finish the first.  What kind of effect is this having on us, on our society, and on our families?
            [Just look at our TV shows and the commercials.  There are hardly any nice, slow, lingering shots anymore.  It’s tons of snippets of images thrown at us every split-second, with music blaring and words flashing across the screen.  It’s sensory overload.  And it’s overwhelming. 
            And the reason they do this (so they say) is because the attention span of people has shortened.  We can’t simply sit and listen and tune in to anything that takes time and focus.  Everything has to be in bite-sized chunks. 
            And I think it’s sad because we are losing touch with so much that really matters.  We need immediate gratification.  We can’t hang in there.  We can’t commit and fight for what matters.  We can’t just be with each other anymore without looking for something else to do.  And our spiritual lives are suffering and our families are falling apart.]

6.  In what ways do we need to slow down more, as a society and as Christians?
            [I personally would love to see all of us slow down when it comes to technology.  I would love for society to “simplify” everything.  Learn to tend to the land again.  Learn to live without a cell-phone in your ear.  Put the gadgets down and enjoy the outdoors.  Visit with friends and family without checking your text messages. Read a real book with paper pages. 
            Also, I think it would be good for us to slow down when it comes to activities.  We don’t have to be doing 20 activities every week.  We don’t have to fill every day with something.  There is something sublime about just spending time in the backyard with your family, grilling out, throwing a football around.  I love the sense of unity that it builds.  And I love it that we can find so much to delight within our own family and in our own yard.  Personally, I think that we tend to be more thankful and more aware of God’s presence when things are slower and simpler.]       

7.  Do you seek to connect with the Lord during the day, in prayer, in meditating on Him, in reading the Word, or during a regular quiet time with Him?  What do you do during that time?  How does it affect you?  (Or if you don’t do these things, how does that affect you?  How might adopting regular spiritual disciplines or a regular devotional time change your life?)

8.  What “wasted moments” can you find in your day when you could be turning your mind to God?

9.  Can you “be still” in all the ways: physically, mentally, in trust, and in waiting?  If not, why not?  What are you afraid might happen if you were to “be still” in these ways?  Do you have any examples from your life when you’ve done it right or wrong?

10.  How do you normally face or handle trials that come up?  How do you feel about “waiting” on Him, especially when the wait is long and dark?  What gets in the way of being able to “be still” and wait on God during trials?     

11.  Why is thanksgiving so important for getting that “peace of God which surpasses all understanding”?  How might a “lack of thanksgiving” lead to no peace?

12.  I said that God whispers and that we have to have “ears to hear.”  Do you think this is true?  What does the Bible mean when it says He “whispers”?  What does “ears to hear” mean?  And what does all this mean for us?   

13.  What other ways does God get our attention and get His messages across to us?  And what ways might He use to get our attention if we do not have “ears to hear”?

14.  What are some ways God has gotten your attention over the years?  How have you “heard” Him?

15.  What do you think this verse means?
            “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

16.  Do you agree with me that it is possible to “pursue God too much, to run too hard after Him”?  Have you ever experienced this?   

17.  Can you think of other “expectations” of God or of ourselves that might affect our relationship with Him, our peace, our trust of Him, and our ability to “be still”?  What expectations have you had?  How did it affect you?

18.  What do you think I mean when I say, “I need to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’”?

19.  What do you think I mean when I said this:  I have tried and tried to make my hope and faith strong enough to hold me up, but now I really just need God to hold me.”?  Do we sometimes lean more on our “hope and faith” than we do on God?  (And if so, how?  And what effect does it have?)  Or is it the same thing?

20.  Do you think God speaks through the quiet?  Why might we avoid the quiet?  Have you ever learned an important lesson this way?

21.  Do you think God goes slower than we do?  If so, why does this frustrate us?  How do we fight or interfere with the long waits and slow answers, and what are some of the possible consequences of doing this?  What would be a better way to handle them instead?

22.  What are some ways that Satan gets to you spiritually?  How can you protect yourself against this?

23.  I said that hope in God doesn’t include worry and trying to make things happen, etc.  What else does hope not include?  What is “hope” and how do we live it out?

24.  “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)
            What do you think this verse means?  How can we apply it?  And have you experienced this in your life? 

25.  Ephesians 5:17, 18 says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. . . . be filled with the Spirit.”
            How can we be “filled with the Spirit”?  What are some effects of this, evidence of it?  And is it a “one time” thing or a regular thing?

26.  How can you tell if someone (yourself) is not filled with the Spirit?  What gets in the way of “being filled”?  And what are some wrong reasons and some right reasons why we might seek to be filled with the Spirit?

27.  Do you think God is challenging you about anything related to this topic?